Police link break-ins to meth addiction
Corey Francis quickly noticed an errant computer cord on the floor in his chiropractic office when he arrived with his wife and child one day in mid-August.
He then discovered that a laptop computer was missing from the Bonanza Drive office.
The Summit County Attorney’s Office says that the computer was taken as part of a string of burglaries and thefts that the prosecutors blame on Jorge Valdez-Vargas, charged with 11 counts, both felonies and misdemeanors.
"He must have had a pretty good idea of what he was doing," Francis says, noting that the suspect could have grabbed other goods from the chiropractor’s office but only took the computer.
Augustus Chin, a prosecutor in the Summit County Attorney’s Office, alleges that Valdez-Vargas, 23, who last lived in the Iron Horse neighborhood but is described by the Park City Police Department as a drifter for the last few months, broke into a car and into buildings, among other charges.
In the Francis case, the prosecutors claim that Valdez-Vargas unlawfully entered the building and took the computer, which court papers say is valued at $1,350.
"What I think is, he looked in the window facing my office and saw it," Francis says.
Valdez-Vargas appeared in front of Judge Bruce Lubeck on Thursday afternoon, when he was assigned a public defender. The judge set bail at $25,000. Valdez-Vargas is next scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 3. The court appointed Paul Quinlan, a public defender, to Valdez-Vargas. Quinlan did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Mike Fierro, a Park City Police Department detective who investigated the cases, says in an interview that Valdez-Vargas was stealing to finance an addiction to methamphetamine.
Another laptop computer, worth about $2,000, was reported stolen on Aug. 18 on Three Kings Court, the prosecutors say.
"For that month period, he went crazy," Fierro says.
The detective says that Valdez-Vargas has lived illegally in the U.S. since he was three years old.
According to Fierro, Heber authorities at the beginning of September arrested Valdez-Vargas on unrelated misdemeanor charges. He used three or four aliases, Fierro says, before acknowledging his proper name to Heber authorities.
Fierro, who says investigators determined Valdez-Vargas to be a suspect in the Park City cases, questioned him Sept. 15 in Utah County, where he had been transferred.
He was brought to the Summit County Jail on Sept. 18, according to Fierro. At the time, immigration officials were preparing to deport Valdez-Vargas to his native Mexico.
Fierro alleges that Valdez-Vargas was trading the merchandise for methamphetamine or selling the goods and spending the money on the drug.
"Everything he gained went to support his meth habit," Fierro says, adding that Valdez-Vargas made "really dumb choices."
Fierro says Valdez-Vargas is a suspect in another 10 to 15 burglaries and vehicle burglaries. He says the investigation is continuing and other people might be charged.
He says that Valdez-Vargas hit a condominium, a hotel, the chiropractor’s office and eight vehicles. Prosecutors describe a spree that lasted from Aug. 15, when the chiropractor’s office break-in was reported, until Aug. 28, when the New Claim Condos on Prospector Drive were targeted.
Prosecutors say that a variety of goods were taken in the cases, including a $240 pair of sunglasses, a $275 bracelet and $300 iPod in an Aug. 21 case.
In the Aug. 28 case at the New Claim Condos, prosecutors say that Valdez-Vargas admitted stealing a Lincoln Town Car, worth $3,000. Prosecutors say that the car was found at nearby condominiums with a damaged passenger door, a broken window and a $400 stereo system missing.
The most serious count, a second-degree felony, carries a potential prison sentence of 1 to 15 years and a $10,000 fine if he is convicted.
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Bruce Erickson, the planning director at City Hall, has died, the municipal government said. Erickson was involved at some level in nearly all the major decisions regarding growth and development in Park City since the early 1990s.